Kansas City,
09:21 AM

Parenting: Why Kids Misbehave and What to Do

Amy Terreros, Advanced Practice RN II, SCAN Clinic (Child Abuse and Neglect)

It happens to the best of us. You’re at the grocery store and your kid throws a tantrum because you won’t buy her a candy bar in the checkout lane. You’re at a restaurant and she won’t stop crawling under the table even after repeatedly telling her not to. And who doesn’t struggle with bedtime? As soon as you tell her it’s time for bed the whining starts.

At some point, all kids misbehave and they do it because they want attention. To help keep them from acting out, fill up their “attention tank” with praise and play.

Tell your child when she is being “good”

Everyone likes to be told they are doing a good job, especially kids. Praising your child when she behaves well or does something you like makes her feel good and want to keep behaving well. Try noticing and praising your child for things like:

  • Playing quietly, sharing and taking turns.

  • Listening to instructions.

  • Working hard.

  • Saying “please” and “thank you.”

Play with your child every day

Just a few minutes goes a long way. When you play, try not to teach, ask questions or accomplish something specific. Instead, show you are paying attention by describing what she is doing with the toys and praising good behaviors.

Use rewards to guide and teach

Rewards help kids’ complete chores and learn new things. Here are some tips:

  • Set clear and reasonable goals.

  • Focus on the positive, like “getting ready on time.”

  • Break down complicated tasks.

  • Only work on one to three goals at a time.

  • Use what motivates your child as the reward (video game, TV show, extra play time with dad, etc.).

  • Make rewards small and give them often.

What a child finds rewarding may change from day-to-day

Prepare children for change. Children typically like having routines. If a routine is going to be different, it is best to let the child know ahead of time. This also allows the child to ask questions. Another way to help a child prepare for change is to use play to act out what the change will be like.

Things get easier with practice

Distractions can help avoid struggles. Public places like grocery stores, the hospital or doctor’s office are boring for kids! Bring something for children to do, like coloring, reading or playing with a toy. Have your children take turns with toys while they are waiting.

Show behaviors you would like to see in your child. We expect children to share, say “please” and take a break to calm down; so we need to play by the same rules. By pointing out manners and good coping strategies when we use them, we teach our children that they are important. “Mommy is upset and needs to take some deep breaths to calm down. Let’s do it together!” Telling your kids when you feel sad, upset or happy, helps them tell you about their feelings.


Learn more about the The Safety, Care & Nurturing (SCAN) program at Children’s Mercy.